By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If you’ve been listening to some people over the past five months, you might believe the New England Patriots are in shambles.
That’s an overstatement for the defending AFC champs, of course, but it’s indicative of an offseason that hasn’t been seen in these parts in a long, long time. Tom Brady is apparently not buying in to the rah-rah team spirit in May, Rob Gronkowski has been all over the place, and head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft have been making power plays going back to last year, according to all of the rumors and innuendo you’ve no doubt heard by now. (Bob Kraft would like to let you know that at least some of that is “hogwash.” That’s a great word. Try it out. Take it out for a spin. Hogwash. Solid word.)
As with most things, the truth of the matter is somewhere in between the two extremes that you might hear. With the quarterback skipping all of the optional portion of the offseason program, and with the all-world tight end contemplating retirement and likewise skipping the optional workouts and practice sessions, things clearly aren’t the way they’ve always been down at 1 Patriot Place. At the same time, there’s a rather strong chance that for all of the hubbub surrounding the absence of that duo from OTAs, the net impact of all of that when the season begins is close to non-existent.
And, really, with Brady and Gronkowski missing from the OTAs all spring, the situation doesn’t serve as evidence that the Patriots are falling apart. It just makes them look like every other team in the NFL.
In some cases, the Patriots still look better than a number of teams.
That’s because when it came time for mandatory minicamp, Brady and Gronkowski were present and accounted for. By all accounts, Brady looked like his usual self as he enters his age 41 season. And Gronkowski was running around like a 6-year-old at recess, chucking footballs in celebration and hooting and hollering every chance he could get. The two most important offensive players on the team — and perhaps in the history of the franchise — both appear to be quite all right.
Some other teams wish they could say the same about some of their star players.
Down in Atlanta, star receiver Julio Jones is skipping the Falcons’ mandatory minicamp this week. He also skipped OTAs as he holds out for a new contract.
Out in Oakland, new/old head coach Jon Gruden has to deal with a disgruntled Khalil Mack, who will also be skipping the Raiders’ mandatory minicamp as he too hopes to work out a new contract.
Over in Arizona, running back David Johnson also will not be in attendance for the Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp. What does he want? You guessed it — a new contract!
In Tennessee, first-time head coach Mike Vrabel has been welcomed with the issue of tackle Taylor Llewan holding out of the Titans’ mandatory minicamp. Llewan did attend some OTAs but, unsatisfied with the lack of progress in contract extension talks, is saying “thanks but no thanks” to the mandatory minicamp.
Oh, and there’s also Seattle, where the ever-festive Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have to try to figure out a way to make Earl Thomas happy as he, too, skips the Seahawks’ mandatory minicamp. Thomas has stated that he wants a new contract. (He also wants to keep the 12s up to date on his situation. Congrats to the 12s.)
Los Angeles Rams star defensive lineman and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald? He’s skipping minicamp. (He wants a contract, if you can believe that.)
In Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell won’t be at the Steelers’ minicamp. (He wants a new contract, you see.) Antonio Brown is there, but he had skipped some OTAs and appears to be having a Brady-esque moment of questioning why, exactly, he’s grinding on the football field in May and June.
These are not marginal players. You look around at those names, and you can basically start building up an All-Pro team. Many of them seem to feel that, given the rising salary cap number over the past several years, their contracts are not in line with the market. Massive paydays for players like Sammy Watkins and Nate Solder tend to shine a spotlight on any such discrepancies. (Gronkowski, who signed his contract back in 2012 when the salary cap was $54 million lower than it is in 2018, can attest to this.)
There’s little to no doubt that if you asked the head coaches of those involved teams if they’d prefer to have their star players in attendance for the only mandatory offseason practices before training camp, you can bet they’d all agree that certainly life would be easier if the stars showed up.
But as has been pounded into all of our brains time after time after time by players and executives alike, the NFL is a business. And sometimes business decisions need to be made.
For the aforementioned players, their business decisions meant skipping mandatory minicamp and accepting the fines that accompany such a decision. Things may be a bit off in Foxboro with Brady and Gronkowski, but when push came to shove, both players showed up when they were required to show up. Looking around the league, it’s clear that things could be much worse.